Product v. Process

The age-old art teacher debate–are you a product person or a process person? The optimist tells me that everything we do is important, it all starts with the foundation and we build from there with the process we teach.  The pragmatist tells me we are judged by the products that are created.

I am a product person, but we have quite a process we go through to get to that point. To me, it’s part of a cycle–if your process is good enough, your products will be successful.  If your products are successful, you had to do something to get to that point, right? If you’re so good with your process, doesn’t that eventually turn into a good product?

As artists move into advanced classes, the product becomes takes on extra importance–if your portfolio is what’s getting you into art school, earning you scholarships, do you want to excel when you’re practicing drawing a chair? What do brainstorming and comparison exercises really do for you at this point?

Who wants to be the kid who centers well when throwing on the wheel?Who needs to have the best gesture drawings or contour sketches?  Is anybody proud of having the best weekly sketchbook assignments?

Should our students care about these things? Yes. But do they? Questionable.

Students want to have the best product, and here’s why: product INSPIRES. It makes peers notice, it makes non-art kids want to take art, it gives our kids confidence, and it gives them recognition. It makes people outside the art room appreciate what’s going on inside these walls. Product wins art competitions and awards. Product makes you money. Product gets you into art schools, and product pays for your higher-level education. Maybe that’s your end goal for your students, maybe it’s not, but you can’t get around the fact that students’ interest and attention is drawn to the final product.

I had a student come through the art room a couple years ago and create these works. Is process important for the artist who can draw like this? If you say yes, why? What’s the point? He’s interested in drawing people, so let’s say we work together to develop a process in which he focuses on figure drawing, facial features, anatomy studies, skeletal work, shading, technique, and it gets him to . . . where he already is. He wants to concentrate on product. If this is the case for one of your students, the process doesn’t matter–the product does.

There are, however, a few hundred other kids coming through the art room that need that process. Obviously our teaching goes beyond just techniques and skills–simply put, we are teaching kids how to think. A good process will also involve teaching students how to utilize those higher order thinking skills, how to make choices, and how to develop and push the boundaries of their work. If you’re developing the artists in your classroom using a successful process, you will have products that reflect that success.

The beautiful thing is, we don’t really have to be one or the other. You can have the best of both worlds, because process and product do not need to be mutually exclusive. We fall into this trap of having to choose a side, and the argument goes something like this–If you are a process person, you don’t care about the finished product.  If you care about product, you don’t care how you get there and aren’t teaching kids “the right way”. Guess what? It’s okay to appreciate both. In fact, you’ll probably be a better teacher when you can find the right balance between the two.

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  1. Many of the example used to describe process are what I would call technique. Technique is part of the process, but it isn’t process.

    I gave a lesson on value. All the students produced a pencil drawing portrait. I taught shading techniques. Students used grids to copy the exact image from a photo. Though this proved to be an effective exercise in value, there was no process involved. It was all technique.

    This week a student is working on a 3D piece about scale. Her idea is to have little construction men using make up as art materials to paint on a huge portrait of a woman. The process involves her creating the design, deciding what materials she will use, etc. There is also trial and error, she tried one thing it didnt work so she tried another. As part of the process she asked about the technique of proportion.

    In the first example there was technique but no process. Students followed the steps to complete the product.

    In the second example there was much process. The student is making all the decisions, she is learning some by trial and error and she is also incorporating techniques. She will likewise have a product.

    When I say I’m process over product, Its because I’m most interested in the learning process, the thought process, the creative process thats happening in the second example then I am the product my students made in the first.


  1. Andrea Hernandez

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